Professional Jeweler Archive: The Achilles Heel of the Kimberley System

January 2003


The Achilles Heel of the Kimberley System

Now that the Kimberley certification system to stop the flow of conflict diamonds has begun, it’s time to talk about the careful monitoring and sanctioning of governments and individuals who break the rules. Such monitoring is planned by the Kimberley Process governments and the World Diamond Council. Watching the system carefully will be crucial because there is troubling evidence that corrupt governments in Africa could quickly derail all the hard work of two years.

The most dangerous example right now is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where a shaky peace deal was signed in mid-December that has the government sharing power with two rebel groups. The DRC government is weak and its new partners are Ugandan- and Rwandan-backed rebels who have made “private, mineral-rich fiefdoms out of more than half of Congo, which they will have to give up for the envisioned united Congo,” according to a report by the Associated Press. Though the United Nations has deployed thousands of armed forces in the DRC to make the new plan work, power sharing deals have a weak record in Africa. They failed miserably in both Sierra Leone and Angola, where fighting only stopped when one rebel leader was arrested and the other killed.

In addition, the DRC government continues to tolerate severe human rights violations in the diamond fields of Mbuji Mayi, which are controlled by MIBA, the DRC’s mostly state-owned diamond mining company. Miners have been killed, wounded and deprived of basic civil rights, according to a report by Amnesty International. How will the DRC government, which is a member of the Kimberley Process, guarantee to other Kimberley members that its diamonds haven’t fueled conflict, when it can’t even control abuses in its own diamond fields?

Even more troubling is a UN report, released in October, which details ongoing diamond smuggling from the DRC, via Lebanese criminal organizations that sell to a group of Antwerp diamond companies named in the report. The international diamond industry has promised to expel any diamond company that deals in such diamonds, and human rights groups will start howling if that doesn’t happen. Diamond industry leaders and government officials tell me that UN reports like the recent report on Congo, often level accusations such as these, but then can’t provide strong enough evidence for local authorities to arrest such individuals for smuggling or dealing with criminal organizations.

Internal diamond industry investigations, however, could provide a great deal of deterrence to any diamond company thinking of doing business with criminal organizations. Even if the diamond companies named in the UN report aren’t members of the diamond bourses, an industry investigation could send a clear signal to bourse members that they should ask a lot of questions before dealing with such companies themselves. Though this may seem like an example of guilty until proven innocent, these strong measures are necessary to maintain the credibility of the diamond industry.

The Kimberley Process participants are scheduled to meet early in 2003, to work out details over how to monitor and sanction violators. Perhaps the example of the DRC will provide a blueprint for how to proceed.

– Peggy Jo Donahue

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